Auctions Market France

Magdalene reaches ecstatic heights at auction

A record for the artist Artemisia Gentileschi was made when a rediscovered painting sold for $1.18m in Paris last night

Artemisia Gentileschi's Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy sold for €865,500 (est €200,000-€300,000). Photo: Sotheby’s France / Art Digital Studio

A recently rediscovered painting by the 17th-century Italian artist Artemisia Gentileschi made a record yesterday, 26 June, when it sold for €865,500 ($1.18m) including buyer’s premium at Sotheby’s Paris Old Master sale.

The painting, Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy, a large, dramatic canvas, was recently found in a private collection in the south of France, where it had been hidden from view for the past 80 years. Seven bidders pushed up the price for the rediscovered masterpiece to almost three times the top estimate of €300,000.

Previously known only from an early 20th-century black-and-white photograph, the painting is striking for its rich, Caravaggesque tonality of light and the colour in Mary Magdalene’s long copper-gold hair and purple robe. Nominally a religious subject, in Gentileschi's handling it becomes a study in human bliss.

The daughter of the Tuscan painter Orazio Gentileschi, Artemisia, born in 1593, was the first woman ever to be accepted into the Accademia delle Arte di Disegno in Florence. She became one of the very few women painters to achieve recognition in the male-dominated world of post-Renaissance art.

Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy is the latest in a recent series of major artistic finds in the French provinces, raising hopes that the country’s art market could be enriched as inheritances from a post-war generation come under the hammer. Just last week, an 18th-century Quianlong-era Chinese vase sold for more than €2m (against a high estimate of €500,000) at an Ivoire Groupe auction in Saint-Etienne. The object had been in the same family since 1880 and was found in a closet during an inventory done by the auctioneer.

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